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Eric Schurenberg, CEO, Mansueto Ventures, Fast Company & Inc., To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “We Just Had A Really Strong Start To The Year And Advertisers Stuck With Us Rather Than Pulling Out Because Of The Crisis..” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

April 10, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (10)

“The message that I would send to the readers and the sponsors of Inc. is what’s contained in my CEO letter, which is published on Inc.com and Fastcompany.com. And the gist of the message was on the Inc. side, that we have stood by small business owners and fast-growing entrepreneurs for 40 years and we will stand by them now and do whatever it takes to help them through this crisis. No one understands them better than we do. And when we get to the other side of this, Inc. will be there with them once again.”… Eric Schurenberg

“On the Fast Company side, it’s the same message for that different audience. We have helped define a cadre of creative, innovative, tech-forward, socially-conscious businesspeople who imagine a future of business in which all of those characteristics come to the fore. And we know that those characteristics will help people succeed during this terrible crisis. And that Fast Company will be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with those readers, helping the imagine a better future.” … Eric Schurenberg

Two titles that have their finger on the pulse of all things business, Fast Company and Inc. magazines, are staying true-to-form during this pandemic: they’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder with their readers.

Eric Schurenberg is CEO of  Mansueto Ventures, home of Fast Company and Inc. I spoke with Eric recently to discuss this tragic pandemic and what it’s doing to our nation and the world, both health-wise and economically. And while Eric remains optimistic about our economic future, he does believe that the quicker the pandemic is over, the sooner our economy will be able to rebound. He said that he is hoping for a V-shaped recovery rather than a U-shaped as many economists call them: “I’m hoping for a V-shaped recovery and I think that the odds of that remain better than even as long as things are resolved quickly.”

But Eric also puts a lot of faith in the readers of his products, the entrepreneurs who he believes will find the innovative solutions to get our country back on its feet promptly, and the small business owners who are the backbone of our financial system.

And now please enjoy this tenth installment in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic, in the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Eric Schurenberg, CEO, Mansueto Ventures, Fast Company & Inc.

But first the sound-bites:

On how he is operating during this pandemic: We sent everyone home on March 11, so a few days after your school did. We’ve been working from home since then. Occasionally, people ask when I think we’ll go back and of course, no one knows, we’ll be out indefinitely. Certainly not this month. Like everybody else, we’re doing a lot more Zoom meetings and doing less email and more Slack, and reviewing other technology platforms that might make remote working easier and getting advice in that regard.

On whether being from the editorial side of the magazine business instead of the business side has helped him as CEO during this crisis: It’s different. Better in some ways, not better in other ways. I think that the Town Hall thing was an example of one of the ways in which it helped. I had contacts at the Chamber of Commerce dating back to my days as editor, so I communicated with a partner over there and conceived how the town halls might work the way an editor might conceive them. So that was a big success.

On whether he’s had to make any changes to his publishing schedules due to the pandemic: We’ve made no changes, and so far the one issue for each brand that we’ve closed since the emergency hit has been above goal. That could be a reflection of the fact that we just had a really strong start to the year and advertisers stuck with us rather than pulling out because of the crisis. Or it could be that budgets that were set for live events have moved to print partly, some of that money has moved to print. But so far, so good on the print side.

On how he views the relevancy of Inc. and Fast Company magazines today during this pandemic:  The magazines and the titles, we are certainly magazine brands, and paper is not the only way that we convey information and serve our readers. But I would say that the brands are more important than they have ever been and you can see that just in the kind of contact we have with our readers. As I said, the town halls we have to help people understand how to get loans from the government  help people with small businesses, assist entrepreneurs in getting loans from the government, these have been huge successes. And we’ve drawn in people from all over. And what that says to me is when you’re in distress, as many small business owners are now, you turn to the brands that you trust most. And for many small businesses that’s Inc. and Fast Company.

On whether he ever envisioned something like this happening, even in his worst nightmares: In many ways I think that 2008 was worse for the industry, just because the financial system was in danger of collapse. And I don’t think we’re there yet. We know that many people are out of work and many industries are hugely challenged, but we also know that this will end. And that the infrastructure itself is not threatened if it ends within a reasonable amount of time. So unlike the financial crisis in 2008, where people were discovering how rickety the financial system was, how overleveraged and how it was balancing on the head of a pin and no one knew that before, and wasn’t really sure of what it meant, those were scarier times.

On any message he has for his reader, advertisers or staff: The message that I would send to the readers and the sponsors of Inc. is what’s contained in my CEO letter, which is published on Inc.com and Fastcompany.com. And the gist of the message was on the Inc. side, that we have stood by small business owners and fast-growing entrepreneurs for 40 years and we will stand by them now and do whatever it takes to help them through this crisis. No one understands them better than we do. And when we get to the other side of this, Inc. will be there with them once again.

On what keeps him up at night: The biggest worry is that the recession will be deeper and longer than I think it will be. I’m not an economist in any way, and most economists are wrong anyway in their prognostications as we know. If this is longer and deeper than I now imagine, then that would be bad. Economists talk about U-shaped recoveries in which there’s a long period where the economy is in a depressed level. And V-shaped recoveries, where the economy rebounds promptly off a low point. I’m hoping for a V-shaped recovery and I think that the odds of that remain better than even as long as things are resolved quickly.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Eric Schurenberg, CEO, Mansueto Ventures, Fast Company & Inc.

Samir Husni:  How are you operating during this pandemic?

Eric Schurenberg: We sent everyone home on March 11, so a few days after your school did. We’ve been working from home since then. Occasionally, people ask when I think we’ll go back and of course, no one knows, we’ll be out indefinitely. Certainly not this month. Like everybody else, we’re doing a lot more Zoom meetings and doing less email and more Slack, and reviewing other technology platforms that might make remote working easier and getting advice in that regard.

The events business, of course, was the most hard-hit and most directly hit. We had high hopes pinned to our activations in South By Southwest (SXSW), where we were setting up content panels and keynotes and everything like that, activations, for both Inc. and Fast Company, and they were very popular. There was a lot of interest and sponsors and registrants, and when that went down, that was a blow. On the other hand, I’m so glad that we didn’t go because that would have been terrible now that we understand how widespread and communicative this disease is.

We managed to rotate most of the sponsors from South By into another platform, either postponed events or digital events or other media, like a page of the magazine or a place during conventional advertising on Inc.com or Fastcompany.com, so while it was a blow, we didn’t go down to zero.

In the meantime, we’ve been having significant success with our digital events. Recently, we had a Town Hall, we called it, about the “CARES Act” and how business owners can access that money that the government made available to small businesses to help them preserve payroll and get loans to get through this emergency. We’re doing that in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce. We’ve maxxed out at 10,000 registrants for both of the weeks that we’ve done it and basically have had to turn people away at 10,000. Inc.’s largest physical event, the Inc. 5000, runs around 2,000 people, so this is a multiple of that event, in terms of its attendance. Interest and sponsors is running strong, so that has been a success story for us in the wake of the crisis.

Samir Husni: You’re one of the few CEO’s who came out from the editorial ranks, not from the business ranks. During this crisis, has being from that side of the magazine world helped you at all in your role as CEO?

Eric Schurenberg: It’s different. Better in some ways, not better in other ways. I think that the Town Hall thing was an example of one of the ways in which it helped. I had contacts at the Chamber of Commerce dating back to my days as editor, so I communicated with a partner over there and conceived how the town halls might work the way an editor might conceive them. So that was a big success.

But I have really good editors in charge of both Inc. and Fast Company, and anything I do as editor in chief without portfolio, if you will, is on top of what they do there. They’re totally competent and wonderful editorial leaders and it’s not like they need my help.

Samir Husni: Have you made any decisions in terms of the publishing schedules or frequencies, are you continuing to publish the print editions as usual  or you’ve had to make some changes due to the pandemic?

Eric Schurenberg: We’ve made no changes, and so far the one issue for each brand that we’ve closed since the emergency hit has been above goal. That could be a reflection of the fact that we just had a really strong start to the year and advertisers stuck with us rather than pulling out because of the crisis. Or it could be that budgets that were set for live events have moved to print partly, some of that money has moved to print. But so far, so good on the print side.

Samir Husni: You deal with the business, with the economy, small businesses with Inc., the economy as a whole with Fast Company. And two of the main topics that the world is talking about right now is health and the economy. How do you see the relevancy of those two magazines now, during the pandemic, and as we eventually move out of the crisis?

Eric Schurenberg: The magazines and the titles, we are certainly magazine brands, and paper is not the only way that we convey information and serve our readers. But I would say that the brands are more important than they have ever been and you can see that just in the kind of contact we have with our readers. As I said, the town halls we have to help people understand how to get loans from the government  help people with small businesses, assist entrepreneurs in getting loans from the government, these have been huge successes. And we’ve drawn in people from all over. And what that says to me is when you’re in distress, as many small business owners are now, you turn to the brands that you trust most. And for many small businesses that’s Inc. and Fast Company.

Fast Company’s traffic on Fastcompany.com has been as much as 80 percent above its usual pace. People are truly finding the information they need, the comfort, and the advice that they’re looking for at this time.

Samir Husni: As a journalist and as a CEO, have you ever envisioned, even in your worst nightmares, anything like what is happening today with this pandemic? Where the entire country and basically the world has shut down?

Eric Schurenberg: In many ways I think that 2008 was worse for the industry, just because the financial system was in danger of collapse. And I don’t think we’re there yet. We know that many people are out of work and many industries are hugely challenged, but we also know that this will end. And that the infrastructure itself is not threatened if it ends within a reasonable amount of time. So unlike the financial crisis in 2008, where people were discovering how rickety the financial system was, how overleveraged and how it was balancing on the head of a pin and no one knew that before, and wasn’t really sure of what it meant, those were scarier times.

You remember, for example, the stock market went down for more than 20 percent three years in a row during that crisis as more of a financial weakness became evident. Today, the stock market went down dramatically right away and then began to rebound. Now the stock market obviously is an imperfect measure of the health of the economy, but it is a good measure of the state of mind of investors. And I think what you’re seeing is a sense that this catastrophe is serious, but it’s circumscribed. We know what’s causing it and we know that it’s going to end within some timeframe that we can imagine.

It’s awful for some industries and in many ways the entire economy will be changed, we know that too and we can’t exactly predict how it will be changed, we just know it will happen. I also think it’s a lot easier to imagine how things will return to a semblance of normal and that will happen in a matter of months, not years.

Samir Husni: What message would you like or are you already communicating to your employees, your readers, and your advertisers? Is there any specific message?

Eric Schurenberg: The message that I would send to the readers and the sponsors of Inc. is what’s contained in my CEO letter, which is published on Inc.com and Fastcompany.com. And the gist of the message was on the Inc. side, that we have stood by small business owners and fast-growing entrepreneurs for 40 years and we will stand by them now and do whatever it takes to help them through this crisis. No one understands them better than we do. And when we get to the other side of this, Inc. will be there with them once again.

On the Fast Company side, it’s the same message for that different audience. We have helped define a cadre of creative, innovative, tech-forward, socially-conscious businesspeople who imagine a future of business in which all of those characteristics come to the fore. And we know that those characteristics will help people succeed during this terrible crisis. And that Fast Company will be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with those readers, helping to imagine a better future.

To my employees the message is, what we have always done at Inc. and Fast Company matters now more than ever to our readers. They are looking to us for information, validation, for recognition of the sacrifices they’re making and for reassurance that they’re not alone. That they have Inc. and Fast Company standing right beside them as they find their way through this.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Eric Schurenberg: The biggest worry is that the recession will be deeper and longer than I think it will be. I’m not an economist in any way, and most economists are wrong anyway in their prognostications as we know. If this is longer and deeper than I now imagine, then that would be bad. Economists talk about U-shaped recoveries in which there’s a long period where the economy is in a depressed level. And V-shaped recoveries, where the economy rebounds promptly off a low point. I’m hoping for a V-shaped recovery and I think that the odds of that remain better than even as long as things are resolved quickly.

I also have tremendous faith in the creativity and power of innovation of entrepreneurs, and in the kind of people who read Fast Company and Inc. I think that they are going to come up with a solution. And if it’s not a vaccine, it’ll be achievements. And before that they will find a way to manufacture the tests in the volume that we need and get them distributed in the way we do. Entrepreneurship is the vehicle for delivering innovation in a dynamic economy, I’ve seen it happen many times before. And I know our readers at Inc. and Fast Company, and I have a lot of faith that a solution lies with them.

Samir Husni: Thank you.  

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